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Controversial decision

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Wednesday, June 29
Georgia’s Minister of Defence has been criticized by the Government, the President and opposition representatives as she publicly signed a document ending compulsory military conscription from 2017.

The Minister signed the document in front of journalists on June 27 and stressed that “Georgia does not need soldiers who are forced to serve in the Army.”

In response, the President and Prime Minister of Georgia stated they had not been informed about the decision, and it must have been agreed with the Government, President and the State Security Council.

The State Security Council released a separate statement, calling on Defence Minister Tinatin Khidasheli to be “more collegial.”

The head of the non-parliamentary opposition Democratic Movement-United Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, said a minister would not have made such an important decision alone in any democratic state.

Some analysts said it could be a “populist step” before the upcoming, October 8 parliamentary election in favour of the Republican Party which the minister belongs to.

About 25 percent of all eligible conscripts typically serve in the Defence Ministry while the remaining 75 percent serve in the Interior Ministry or Corrections Ministry.

Consequently, the Minister’s decision does not mean that conscription will be completely abolished, as there are two other ministries which also recruit youth for compulsory military service.

Responding to the allegations, Khidasheli said her decision is hardly surprising, as she has spoken about the abolition of compulsory service by the Defence Ministry since her appointment to the post of Minister one year ago.

She also said there were relevant decrees issues by the Government and the Prime Minister which envisaged the abolition of conscription from 2017.

“We also took responsibility before NATO to do away with conscription and fully move to contract-based military service since 2017. Thus, my decision was known to everyone and I voiced the decision as the relevant documentation had already been approved by the President and the Government,” Khidasheli said.

She also dismissed speculations that the move was part of election PR, and said she made the decision after Parliament discussed the issue and after the Ministry of Defence completed its spring conscription.

“If I wanted to take a populist step I would have done this before and not after the latest batch of conscripts had been recruited,” Khidasheli said.